BOSTON (CBS) — Like many players throughout the NFL, Anthony Johnson is hoping that a strong showing in the preseason will lead to a new home.

It was hard not to notice the defensive lineman in New England’s preseason win over the Chicago Bears last week. He got the start and was all over the place against Chicago’s first team, making an instant impact for the Patriots’ defense. He swatted Jay Cutler’s first pass of the game, and hassled the quarterback throughout his time on the field. He brought Cutler down later in the contest, splitting the sack with fellow lineman Trey Flowers, and also brought down running back Jacquizz Rodgers behind the line for a three-yard loss, putting together an impressive evening at Gillette Stadium.

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Getting to the quarterback is nothing new for Johnson, who broke Elvis Dumervil’s record for the most sacks in Louisiana history by getting to the quarterback 67.5 times in high school. He had a solid career at LSU before declaring for the NFL draft after his junior year, but went undrafted in 2014. He signed with the Miami Dolphins in May of 2014, but an ankle injury landed him on the injured reserve and he was cut before the 2015 season. He found his next home on the Washington Redskins’ practice squad, but was cut again in May 2016.

Johnson was a 320-pound lineman without a team. So he started a dramatic training regimen and, perhaps more difficult for a southern boy, cut out all that home cooking that helped build that hulking frame. He now weighs in at 280 pounds.

“A whole lot of weight, man,” Johnson joked with WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton in an interview for Friday night’s Patriots GameDay. “I feel way better. I had to cut a lot of things out of my diet. I’m from New Orleans so I love that southern cooking. I had to leave those red beans, smothered chicken and baked macaroni alone.”

It was no doubt a tough sacrifice, but one that has given Johnson much more energy when he hits the field and has made getting after the quarterback a whole lot easier. The once highly-touted high school star is hoping to get the opportunity to do just that for the Patriots when games start to count in just a few weeks.

“Chills come down your body. It’s something where everybody focuses on you for that one moment,” Johnson said of bringing a QB to the ground. “Defensive linemen, we barely get that spotlight. We do the dirty stuff but we never get the spotlight like the receivers or the running backs or the quarterbacks we get. So when we get that sack, it’s something we worked hard for.”

After struggling to find a home in Miami and Washington, coming to New England has helped start what he hopes is a career renaissance.

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“This is an organization that knows how to work hard. Something I felt I was missing was discipline. Coming to a family-like organization, it makes me feel good to be around a group of guys who want to be the best every day,” he said. “I [appreciate the opportunity], and I’m taking it and running with it. I’m going to keep taking advantage of my opportunities and trying to be the best player I can be.”

Listening to Johnson, it’s easy to see why Bill Belichick is giving him a shot with the Patriots, and his backstory further cements that point home. Johnson was just 12-years-old when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and he and his family had to quickly pack up and leave just about everything behind the morning the devastating storm hit.

“I had a stuffed animal pit bull. I grabbed the stuffed animal and ran out the house. I was gone, no covers, no bags, nothing. Just a dog and I was out the door,” he said. “I was the only boy in the family, and growing up in a houseful of women I had to take care of a lot of responsibilities early. It gave me a chip on my shoulder for my football career.”

That chip has developed into an incredible drive on the field. Following his strong performance against the Bears, Johnson likened himself to a silver back gorilla.

“It’s probably my favorite animal, because they really don’t go out and look for problems. But if you come and try to mess with them, they’re going to bring some pain,” he said.

It certainly seems like Johnson will get the chance to bring more pain come Sundays this fall. And if he doesn’t, he has a good backup plan, one that would give back to the community he loves. If football doesn’t work out, Johnson would like to return home and become a teacher.

“Sometimes, us as adults, we get away from humility. Going back to those kids, getting around the schools, it brings us back home and where we need to be,” he said. “One thing about me, I want to let everybody know you can be anything you want to be. Anything is possible no matter how impossible it seems. You just have to stay persistent and stay steadfast. Just keep trucking.”

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Johnson will no doubt keep trucking, no matter where he ends up. And if he keeps playing the way he has during the preseason and in training camp, he’ll be trucking opposing quarterbacks for the New England defense.